To Weaken the Supreme Court Is to Weaken Israeli Democracy

As of my sitting down to write this piece, Darkenu activists and supporters have sent 9,705 e-mails to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and members of his Kulanu party calling upon them to stand against an unprecedented assault on our Supreme Court. We announced our call to action around this issue just a week ago, and as the speedy outpouring of activity shows, Israelis understand the danger such a law would invite upon our nation. The message Israel’s elected representatives should take away from this phenomenon is clear: the moderate majority are unwilling to watch in silence as a key pillar of our democratic system is undermined.

How did we arrive at this point? How is it that in the year 2018, everyday Israelis are so concerned for the future of our democracy that they felt the need to beg their MKs not to subvert the very foundation of the state?

Currently, there are two versions of a bill making their way through the Knesset — one proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and one by Education Minister Naftali Bennett — that would allow for laws struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court to be re-adopted. Their claim is that it undermines Israel’s sovereignty when the Knesset cannot legislate as it sees fit.

But let’s unpack that assertion.

In the 70 years of Israel’s existence, only 18 laws have ever been struck down by the Supreme Court, four of which were passed by this current Knesset. The sole reason that laws can be overturned in such a way is that they directly contravene the Basic Laws of Israel, which form the bedrock of our society and define and defend our rights as citizens. Therefore, the authority of the Supreme Court is more than just a judicial check on the power of the legislature and the executive; it is what guarantees us our individual rights.

From the birth of modern democracy hundreds of year ago, successful governments have been those that are able to balance the will of the majority with the rights of the minority. In the United States, it is the Bill of Rights that upholds that core principle. In France, it is the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. And in Israel, it is the Basic Laws. As history has shown, where the majority gains unfettered power to pass laws that go against the most basic protections and rights of citizens, minorities suffer, and democracies die.

There is a reason that the Israel Democracy Institute and the legal adviser to the government, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, are so strongly against this bill: and that is because is not Israeli sovereignty that hangs in the balance, but Israeli democracy. We must not allow party politics to weaken our country. We at Darkenu will continue to fight so that we can preserve the Israel we know and love; the Israel that is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and a testament to the power of the people to build a more just society.

About the Author
Polly Bronstein is the CEO of Darkenu, a grassroots movement with a mission to build and mobilize the Israeli moderate camp.